One of the great readings recently was the article from Adams, G.S., Converse, B.A., Hales, A.H. et al. in Nature: People systematically overlook subtractive changes. The summary video, clearly marks the point: Experiments show that people default to adding as a solution in various situations.
It appears to be an uncommon insight. When solving problems, people prefer adding things to getting rid of them. Humans struggle with subtractive thinking. The impact of this discovery is hard overestimate. We live in a world where complexity is added to every aspect of our life. Overlooking subtraction may mean that people are missing out on opportunities to make their lives more fulfilling, their institutions more effective and their planet more livable,
Subtraction is the act of getting to less, but it is not the same as doing less. In fact, getting to less often means doing, or at least thinking, more.
Additive ideas come to mind quickly and easily, but subtractive ideas require more cognitive effort. Because people are often moving fast and working with the first ideas that come to mind, they end up accepting additive solutions without considering subtraction at all.
In a companion Nature paper, Mayvis and Yoon have an interesting explanation:
“we propose that the bias towards additive solutions might be further compounded by the fact that subtractive solutions are also less likely to be appreciated. People might expect to receive less credit for subtractive solutions than for additive ones.”
Most of our ideas we add are already ‘ready to be used’ or ‘pre-cooked’, since they are – or are based upon – things we used before or believe to be best practices, and we like them.
When I look at recent projects where I could add some value, I recognise that most substractions were the removal of “darlings”. The original concept of the solution was started from some ‘de-facto’ ideas, beloved best practices, introduced by the designer, and included with no consideration of substraction.
Bringing this all to gether, the conclusion is
– think substractive,
– kill your darlings (first).
3 responses to “Less = More, “Lets Kill””
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